Artistic Director, Handful Players
Earlier this month, Ryan Marchand, Artistic Director of Handful Players visited our offices and explained how he became involved with Handful Players –one of Engage San Francisco’s inaugural Community Engagement Grantees. Ryan describes the relationship between the youth theatre group and the University of San Francisco’s place base initiative with the Western Addition. NOTE: This interview has been abbreviated for publication.
Question: How did you get started with the organization and what does an being an Acting and Movement Instructor for Handful Players entail?
I first got started with Handful Players when I graduated from San Francisco State University where I was really active in the theater department there. I understood Judith Cohen, the Executive Director for Handful Players, reached out a couple of times to the musical theater department there and a professor recommended me. I started working with Handful Players in 2009 and became the Artistic Director in 2011.
Several concurrent programs run at Handful Players including a year-long flagship program, as well as smaller eight to twelve week residency programs throughout the year. As the artistic director I help oversee the acting and movement portions, as well as keeping a high standard of quality as possible while teaching art. Our mission is helping our students find their voice and empowering them and using musical theater as a vehicle to deliver on that. We balance between finding exercises that are fun and engaging and help our students develop artistically, but also that they’re also developing the social skills that they need to be successful.
We also have a co artistic director and we’ve worked together for awhile so we’ve kind of created our own pedagogy that’s unique to us. We also have a playwright who writes original material for us and for the year long program we always put on a world premiere musical. We get feedback at the beginning of the year from all sorts of stakeholders from the principal of the school that we operate out of, the school district and different community partners about what they want to focus on and what ideas they want to communicate. The playwright will come and talk with the students about what stories they want to talk about this year. I really want to incorporate a step where we get family feedback.
What is the partnership between Handful Players and Engage San Francisco from your perspective, and what is your role within that partnership?
The first step we did was begin building a partnership with USF’s Department of Performing Arts & Social Justice and conducting a student workshop. Teaching artists from Handful Players went to campus and gave the students an overview of what our organization is about, how we were founded and how we operate. This helps set the context for the interns that will be working with us from USF. My role within this partnership is to be there as support and guidance for the interns as they work with us throughout the semester.
How do USF students and/or faculty benefit from the work and mission of Handful Players?
I think just in general, Handful Players embodies your mission and your vision and is really representative of what I think a lot of what USF is trying to accomplish and trying to create, especially the Leo to McCarthy Center. That’s right in line with what we’re trying to accomplish. Handful Players was developed specifically for the African American community and that population is so quickly dwindling in San Francisco and we’re really aligned on helping to address that and so is Engage San Francisco.
We bring a really high caliber of professionals coming to work in this neighborhood with children so there’s exposure on both ends – the kids are having a chance to see role models and actors in action who look like themselves. We make an effort to have as diverse a teaching staff and artist staff as possible. I think it’s really important for our students to have visibility for people they can relate to doing amazing things. What USF and the Leo T. McCarthy Center does are really aligned with what we do and that partnership can help foster change.
How do you imagine the campus-community partnership evolving?
My personal dream would be growing Handful Players to accompany residents of performers who also work as teaching artists and start a touring company to different educational institutions, like to different schools in the area. I would love for that work to be generated by teaching artists and performers as well. That’s like my huge dream. I think Engage San Francisco and USF can continue to cultivate and develop relationship with interns from the department of Performing Arts & Social Justice to create that pipeline of skilled teaching artists. Hopefully some of the students will enjoy working enough that the want to stick around I hope that we can continue to build a base and lay groundwork to continue broadening the reach of Handful Players. I think it’s amazing what we’ve been able to do with so little and I imagine if we had not even that much more we can really broaden our range and make our message that much more impactful. I would love to try to incorporate artists who incorporate this vision of social justice into their everyday lives that’s not just a gig. I’m still a performer and I still perform when I can and have those opportunities, but I also think that the social justice component of a huge factor of my artistic life overall and I would love to be able to keep growing Handful Players to get to that point where we have and continue gaining visibility in the community. People know us when we walk around the neighborhood and that’s a great feeling of community.